SOUTH AMERICA OVERLAND #3

7-Jan-2009: Antarctic Expedition

Well here we are again roughing it in South America!

We began our Antarctic Expedition by moving into the Hotel Albatross on the night before the expedition was to begin. This hotel voucher was included in the expedition package. We were in the hotel lobby ten minutes before midday ready to check in and eager to make use of all the facilities available to us. We particularly enjoyed the free WiFi internet service for all hotel guests as well as the spa and sauna and the complimentary breakfast. That night, we all went out to have an Argentine “all you can eat” spit roast dinner with our travelling companions. Eamon was flying home to Australia while Simon was pushing on alone with his motorbike on New Year’s day.
 
On the day of departure, our luggage was collected in the morning. We had a leisurely day in downtown Ushuaia window shopping. At mid afternoon, we met up with our Quark Expedition representative on the pier. We were transported by coach to where the Clipper Adventurer was docked. There were 112 passengers altogether on this Classic Antarctica voyage. We were both very excited about this trip of a lifetime. We did not really know what to expect other than seeing icebergs, penguins and seals.
 
The moment we walked up the gangway, we were greeted by the Expedition Staff and welcomed by the crew members of the Clipper Adventurer. We were immediately ushered into the main lounge for chocolate chip cookies, sandwiches and drinks. We were taken aback by the plush décor around the ship. The main lounge even had a baby grand piano!
 
After turning in our passports to the Reception, we were shown to our cabins by our room attendant. Our cabin was on the lowest level. It was a very comfortable “stateroom” with ample wardrobes, dressing table and private bathroom. By this stage, we both realised that this was going to be a luxurious expedition. The ship was run like a Hotel with a Manager, dining stewards, room attendants to pamper us all day long for the next ten days. This ship definitely makes the ferry crossing we took across Lake Victoria from Tanzania to Uganda seem like a paddle in a canoe in terms of comfort and luxury! Geoff’s a bit worried that Kienny might never want to get back into Troopy after living in such luxury!
 
Geoff and Kienny were like two children exploring the hallways, library, dining room, upper decks and outer decks peering into the windows of the deluxe cabins. However, we were very satisfied with our lower berth cabin as we figured we might not be rocking as much when we cross the dreaded Drakes Passage. It takes two days to cross the Drakes Passage which is where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans converge and is reputed to be the roughest sea voyage in the world.
 
After unpacking and settling into our cabins, all the passengers were gathered for our first meet and greet with the Expedition Leader and his team of experts. We had an Ornithologist, Geologist, Marine Biologist, Whale and Seal Specialist, Historian, Naturalists and Zodiac Drivers. Our Expedition Leader has had many Antarctic voyages under his belt in the past 29 years. How privileged to be in the company of such an expert team who will be educating and informing us over the next 10 days. We also had to learn a new maritime vocabulary like stern, portside, starboard and bow. When we hear that there are whales at 10 o’clock, that meant the location relative to the bow, not to wait till 10 am to see the whales. We also had our “abandon ship” drill so every passenger knew what to do and where to go in the unlikely event of having to abandon ship. We later learnt that there is at least one ship a year that runs aground or is trapped by packed ice in the Antarctic area we will be visiting.
 

After an hour’s delay due to strong winds, our ship finally departed Ushuaia and steamed through the Beagle Channel towards the open sea called Drakes Passage. We were escorted a short distance by some sea birds gliding gracefully at the ship’s stern. About 5 hours into the voyage, the going started to get rough. All night long and for the next two days, the ship was buffeted by strong winds and 10 metre waves. The ship’s engineer came down to the lower berths to seal all our portholes in case the waves cracked the outer glass layer.
 

Over the next two days, the majority of passengers did not turn up for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the dining room as most of us were too seasick to be stumbling about the ship’s corridors and to keep our food down. The hotel staff were fantastic as they were busy delivering room service to individual cabins. Sick bags were strategically placed on all the handrails along the corridors and staircases. Our expedition leader said the Drakes crossing rated about average but we were sure that the rough crossing was close to the highest rating!
 

By the third night of the Drakes Crossing, most of us have found our sea legs and we were able to enjoy our New Year’s eve hat party. We were to show up in hats made from any material on board the ship except for fire extinguishers and life jackets. There were some amazingly creative hats. The Clipper lounge was decorated with balloons, streamers, midnight snacks and refreshments. It was interesting to note that many of the passengers on this expedition were mainly in the 50 plus age group. Then there was a small contingent in the 30 plus age group with about 15 passengers in their late teens.
 
New Year’s Day was a good day for everyone as we were in calmer waters. We have left Argentina and were now in Antarctica! We were about 150 km north of the Antarctic Circle as the ship navigated its way through ice bergs in the Lamiere Passage. Our first destination was Vernadsky Research Station, formerly called Faraday Station but the British sold it to the Ukraine for the princely sum of one British pound. Today, this station is researching and monitoring climate change and the hole in the ozone layer. Vernadsky Station was our first Zodiac landing. We were also told by the Ukrainian scientists that they had picked up seismic activity that caused the Boxing Day Tsunami two years ago. As we were returning to the ship, we saw a leopard seal resting on top of an iceberg.
 

After an early dinner, we made another Zodiac landing on Peterman Island. What a beautiful place! Our Zodiac navigated through numerous icebergs which were very spectacular. The beach we landed on was a penguin rookery/nursery. We encountered our first Adelie and Gentoo Penguins close-up. They were not perturbed by our presence at all. Whilst we tried to keep a good distance from the penguins, some of the more inquisitive penguins came up very close to where we sat. It was a very special experience to be amongst such happy and carefree creatures!
 
On our second day in the Antarctic Peninsula, we were taken for a Zodiac cruise in Iceberg Alley. We weaved in and out of icebergs of different shapes and sizes. The icebergs were also very colourful. Some had different shades of blue and turquoise, some had arches and icicles while some icebergs were bigger than our ship. In the distant background, there were very formidable mountains covered in white and massive glaciers that emptied into the sea. Whilst on the cruise, we had a close encounter with another leopard seal. It was very inquisitive and swam around and under our Zodiac. The highlight of the encounter was when it hauled itself onto a small iceberg and rested on it for a few minutes. It had a very smiley facial expression and looked very cuddly and adorable.
 

Later that afternoon, our ship continued on the Lamierre Channel towards Useful Island. Once again we got into our Zodiacs and bounced over the rough waves to land on Useful Island. We hiked up a hill in knee deep snow to see a penguin nursery. This time we saw a third species of penguin called the Chinstrap Penguin. We also spotted a Weddell seal and another Leopard seal. The scenery in Antarctica is just amazingly beautiful. We could not stop taking photos.
 

That evening, the Clipper steamed into Paradise Bay and dropped anchor for the night. This was a very magical place. It was like a winter wonderland and ever so beautiful. The Bay was surrounded by tall jagged mountains covered with snow and blue white glaciers pouring into the sea. We had a delicious Barbecue dinner outside on the upper deck with a panoramic view across the Bay to the glorious mountain peaks all around us. Who would have thought that the Antarctic weather would be so nice!
 
On our third day in Antarctica, we sailed through Anvord Bay and Wilhelmina Bay to Enterprise Island. We have been blessed with very good weather; sunshine and blue skies in the past three days. We were hoping for good weather as we made land at Neko Harbour where we would be setting foot on the Antarctic Continent itself. This was a historic moment for us, being that Geoff and Kienny have now travelled to all 7 continents (Europe, Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Australia and Antarctica). Neko Harbour is another awesome place. We hiked up to the highest point to get a better view of the ship anchored amongst icebergs and pack ice as well as several glaciers with large fissures ready to break off and fall into the sea. Geoff and Kienny plucked up enough courage to slide down the steep soft snow-covered hill on our bottoms. There was a family with three teenage kids and they showed us how to do it. No Fear! It was quite a thrill. For those who were very brave, there was an opportunity to take the polar plunge in the freezing waters. There were a good number that took up the challenge, but we were quite content just to look at the pain each swimmer went through. What a fantastic outing we all had!
 

From Neko Harbour we continued our voyage in the Gerlache Strait to Foyn Harbour. Once again the scenery just took our breath away. We never dreamed that Antarctica would be more beautiful than all the other places we have travelled to. At Foyn Harbour, we went out for another Zodiac Cruise. We cruised amongst amazing iceberg formations. Each iceberg was different and very interesting in size, shape and colour. We checked out an old whaling shipwreck that was half submerged in the sea. We wondered whether the crew survived the icy cold conditions. There were also a couple of wooden rowboats washed up on high ground of a small island with two crab eater seals sunning themselves close by. They were not the least bit interested in us.
 
After our afternoon excursion, it was time to make our way from the Gerlache Strait into Bransfield Strait and head for Deception Island which is part of the group of islands that make up the South Shetland Islands.
 

We got an early wake-up call as the Clipper Adventurer was making its way through Neptune’s Bellows, a very narrow passage with dramatic volcanic rock formations on both sides of the ship. This narrow passage brought us out into Telefon Bay, our first Zodiac excursion of the day. This time, we landed on a pebbly volcanic beach. For the first time, we did not have to trudge through soft snow. We took a short hike inland up to a big Caldera. Our Geologist was delighted to be able to show us and teach us more about this volcano which last erupted in 1970. It was quite eerie standing on the edge of this large crater looking down into a big hole where the volcano would have erupted violently. We returned to the beach to visit two Weddell Seals and a small colony of Chinstrap Penguins. Once again, we took too many photos.
 
The next excursion for the day was a swim in the warm volcanic waters at Pendulum Cove, another volcanic beach not far from Telefon Bay. The weather was a little bleak this time but there were still quite a few adventurers who went in for a quick dip to earn their second certificate for swimming in Antarctica. On this beach we also saw the remnants of a Chilean research base which had been destroyed during the last volcanic eruption.
 
Our next destination for the day was Aitcho Island. It took about 3 to 4 hours of sailing in order to get there. Along the way, we were joined by three humpbacked whales. We spent almost an hour whale watching these large mammals trying to capture their every move on camera. They were accompanied by groups of penguins porpoising gracefully on the surface of the water.
 

Aitcho Island was our final Zodiac landing. This island was full of penguin and other bird colonies as well as Elephant seals and Weddell seals. This was the best wildlife stop of the voyage and everyone returned to the ship very content and smelling like guano.
 
Immediately after our final excursion, the Clipper Adventurer headed out to open sea. The ship started to rock side to side once again and many passengers retreated to the comfort of their cabins to nurse their sea sickness. The crew delivered room service meals and took good care of us. By the next morning conditions in the Drakes Passage had improved and the ship was able to make good time back to Ushuaia.
 
As we approached the Beagle Channel, we gathered for a final briefing with our expedition leader.He gave us a first hand account of the MV Explorer that sank in Antarctica on 23-Nov-2007 as he was the Expedition Leader on that final voyage and was the third last person to abandon ship! We were somewhat glad that he left this talk till the end and not at the beginning of our voyage.
 
So, we are now back on firm ground at Ushuaia. In total we sailed 2876km over a period of 10 days. We were reluctant to leave the Clipper Adventurer having had such a wonderful voyage to Antarctica. We met and got to know a lot of other well travelled adventurers. We have been very impressed with Quark Expeditions. Our Expedition Leader and his team of experts were just the best. The crew of 77, including 6 chefs on board the Clipper Adventurer were all very professional and always on hand to pamper us to the hilt. The meals were all excellent. We would not hesitate to highly recommend Quark Expeditions to anyone contemplating a voyage to Antarctica. Antarctica is the driest, coldest, highest and windiest continent on earth. Despite this it is the most beautiful place we have ever visited. It will always have a special place in our hearts and memory.
 
From Ushuaia we have no other alternative but to take the road North on our journey to Alaska.

We trust that you will enjoy our pictures of Antarctica.
The pictures for this section of our trip can be found by clicking here and here or by selecting the Next arrow button at the bottom of this page.

A map of our trip can be seen by going to http://dreamers1.com/americas/GoogleMaps/SouthAmerica.html or by selecting the Map button at the bottom of this page.

The WEB site containing our travels in Africa, Russia and South America is http://overland.dreamers1.com or by selecting the Contents button at the bottom of this page.

Best Wishes,
Geoff and Kienny Kingsmill

Email: gkingsmill@yahoo.com
WEB: http://overland.dreamers1.com

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